Intel shows off next-gen Atom processor

Beijing (China) – Intel used the first day of the Spring IDF in Beijing to show off its Moorestown integrated processor, which is expected to replace the current Atom CPU and chipset later this year or early 2010. The company also introduced two new Z-series Atom processors.

It was the first time that a Moorestown chip was shown live to the public. What makes this processor special is the fact that it integrates graphics and all other chipset components on-die, which will make it substantially smaller and apparently less power hungry than today’s Atom generation.

Moorestown is promised to run at ten times less idle power than the current Atom platform. Intel declined to reveal how much power the chip will actually consume and, at least for us, it is difficult to estimate that number. Today’s Atom relies on a 45 nm processor as well as an older chipset design, based on an updated i915 version, which is called System Controller Hub (SCH) as part of the Atom platform. The SCH is manufactured in 130 nm and simply too power hungry and too large to be used in small mobile devices such as smartphones.

Moorestown is expected to become Intel’s second serious attempt to make an impact in the cellphone market – the first was the Xscale processor, a technology which was acquired by Marvell in 2006. However, this time, the CPU seems to be much more focused and could turn into an interesting competitor to ARM processors.

Intel also launched two new Atom processors with Silverthorne core. The Z550 is positioned on the very high-end with a clock speed of 2.0 GHz and support for a virtual second core. Intel said that the chip consumes a maximum of less than 3 watts and about 220 mWatts on average. There was no information on how expensive the chip will be, but we would expect this model to be a low-volume device that will replace the 1.86 GHz Z540 as the flagship of the Silverthorne family. We haven’t seen the $160 (including SCH) Z540 in any significant devices so far and do not expect that this will change with the Z550. The use of a $160 CPU+Chipset does not make a lot of sense in products consumers expect to cost less than $500 and system vendors have largely passed on it.

The second new processor is the Z515, which includes the company’s new “Burst Performance Technology” and allows the processor to run at 1.2 GHz, instead of just 1.1 GHz. Don’t expect these new Atom processors to become available anytime soon in netbooks, as they are exclusive targeted at (more expensive) MID’s where less power consumption is more important than more performance.

Intel briefly touched the topic of upcoming mobile Nehalem processors, which are scheduled for a H2 2009 launch. The company said that these CPUs “will be more powerful than their predecessors by including such technologies as Intel Hyper-Threading Technology and Intel Turbo Boost Technology.”